Preparing for retirement is a little like planning an exciting vacation. It takes a lot of work and preparation, making sure that every detail is right so that it will be exactly what you want. With a vacation, you choose a destination, pick a date, plan the itinerary and make reservations. You can create a packing list, but you can’t actually pack until just before it’s time to leave. With retirement, you put in place good habits of spending and saving, you reduce debt and you invest. Then, you make sure that you’ll achieve your goal by the date you want. After that, as long as you maintain your discipline, there’s nothing you can do to arrive at your goal sooner.
What will you do when there’s nothing you can do? Some people would say, “Patience.” Ensuring that your finances are properly handled takes work and focus. Once it has been addressed, however, that energy no longer has a focus. I believe that’s what makes me feel impatient. I’m so used to thinking about my financial habits, that I wonder if there’s more to do. When there isn’t, I end up wasting time. I just look at account balances, knowing they’ll be almost the same as last week, or even yesterday. I review my income or expenses, already knowing what they will be. And none of this activity feels meaningful, because it has no effect on the outcome.
Right now, I’m in a situation where I am moving toward my goal. Only time can bring me any closer, and I already know what the timeline is. Given that I have a specified period before reaching my goals, I am faced with a choice. I can either waste that time, or make it meaningful. Now that one area of my life (finances) is arranged, I have the time and attention to address other areas. I ask myself: if I didn’t worry about my financial future, where would I spend my time and energy? What are the things I care about?
My physical health is one answer. I spend a lot of time using my mind to solve problems and give advice. What if I spent more time cooking, eating properly and exercising? That would have a positive impact on my life. Another area is learning. In my case, I want to live in Hong Kong and I’d really like to be able to speak Chinese. It’s quite easy to find language learning materials at the library or on the internet and I could put more time and effort into learning another language. The last example I will give is my family. Sometimes when I am with them, I’m not really present because I’m thinking about worries that relate to my job or my money. That’s not fair to my family and it’s not a good use of my time.
Now that my finances are on track, there are other places that I can focus my energy. Not only will it have a greater, more positive impact on my life, but it increases my enjoyment of the time I would otherwise spend just waiting to arrive at my goals. And, since there’s more to life than money, it will probably make retirement more enjoyable, too.